Sunday, 21 April 2013

Skirwith Cave: Ingleton's Forgotten Wonder

It rained heavily today so I decided to shelter in a very special cave.  The ground was far from saturated so it was bound to be safe unless the heavens opened.  I wanted to check out a favourite old haunt just outside Ingleton, one of the most beautiful cave passages in the Three Peaks area.  

Skirwith Cave lies off the Ingleton to Hawes road about a mile outside the village.  It is marked by a customary hawthorn and was, between 1965 and 1974, a popular show cave. It was closed when it became unsafe due to moving boulders probably caused by quarry workings.

My little car is tucked into the lay-by just opposite the quarry.  You must be very careful not to block the gate as access is needed for the farmer at all times.  The old Skirwith Farm used to lie in the trees until swallowed by the quarry and demolished.  

Once reaching the cliff there is an old sign: 'Cave Entrance Up the Steps.'  Everything looks so primitive.  Imagine painting on a cliff today in the national park?

These are the steps and handrails once used by the public. Skirwith was open 10.30 - 6.00 p.m. on weekdays and from 10.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. at weekends.  The farmer clearly knew how to supplement his income!  The entrance fee was two shillings.  Well worth the money!

One of the original ways in is supported, precariously, by a rusty iron bar!

The present way in is a concrete supported archway in the field just above the cliff.  You have to slither down a 45 degree slope under a dangling rock, and then it's easy walking.

Steps no doubt once led down the slope, but collapse has meant you have to slither down on your backside.  You then meet the old iron gate inside.

The way on is a beautiful tear-drop shaped passage with a floor of calcite.  There is the sound of running water ahead.  

Some of the formations in this first section are amazing.

Then the floor itself, a pristine gour-pool, is really too beautiful to be walked on.  It's a good job the entrance is hard to find!  

The piece-de-resistance is what comes next: textbook columns, flowstone and gour pools.  A place to marvel at.

So good in fact, it's worth edging a bit closer - taking care not to touch any of the formations.  

Close-up of the column - and the pillow of beautiful encrusted calcite.

Gour pools to the left of the column are wonderful.

Further on is this wonderful cascade of flowstone, with delicate gour pools forming underneath.  See the face formed by the pools?

The cascade looks particularly impressive in close-up.

The old wooden walkways give away that this was once a showcave.  They also give a very eerie atmosphere to the passage and a stream sinks under the right hand wall beneath them.

There are hanging flowstone curtains everywhere. Despite the easy access, the secretive nature of the cave means that they are almost untouched.

The stream is clearly faster on the left side.  It has undercut the passage leaving a sloping wall, with a vertical wall on the right.

Ahead is the horrible boulder choke in the roof.  You have to squeeze under this  without touching any of those rocks.  The bottom one is wedged by about an inch on the right and half of that on the left.  It's holding all the rest up!!!  This place gives me the eebie-jeebies.

This is what it's like in the ceiling above.  Absolutely horrendous!

In most cases when outdoors, people warn you not to look down.  In this case, when crawling underneath, you just don't look up - and if you do, you don't think about it.  Luckily I had texted my family before entering to tell them where I was.  If that lot went, I don't think I'd be coming out again.

Further on the heart rate slows down and it gets beautiful again.  I decided, being alone - not to venture through the second choke to the waterfall.  Save that for another day.

The author - having made it this far alive - takes a self portrait to prove it.

The 'inscriber' perhaps - a beautiful area of flowstone.

These flowstone fingers look almost edible.

Back at the cave's finest feature, I experimented with different light.  When I didn't use a flash at all and just relied on my caving lamp, delicate droplets of water showed up like sparkling diamonds.

This effect is also captured on video where it is really magical.

The results with a flash are just as effective in a different way.  How do you drag yourself away from this?

Three words: in my element.

Daylight approaching: time to crawl out again.

Whernside rarely looks majestic, but from here it shows the same stepped profile as Ingleborough, the Yoredale slopes sitting on the wonderful Twistleton Scars, stretching along Chapel-le-Dale.


  1. Fantastic tour, thank you so much.

  2. good stuff .nice cave for the area,

  3. was by far the best show cave when i was young

    1. Yeah I agree very much. There was a kind of holy trinity of Skirwith, White Scar and Ingleborough when I was a kid but Skirwith was absolutely the boss - partly because it felt so much less prepared than the others. Gorgeous.